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Q & A: History of the Transistor

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
Is there a specific incident in history that lead to the invention of the transistor? What is the biggest impact it has had throughout its history?
- Eric (age 13)
Fruitvale Jr. High, Bakersfield, California
A:
Eric -

The transistor was invented in 1947 by a group of scientists at Bell Laboratories. John Bardeen and Walter Brattain recieved the Nobel Prize for its invention in 1956. William Shockley was another scientist at Bell Labs who was largely responsible for its invention. The three men were working to improve technology for communication by researching semiconductors.

There's a whole bunch of scientific details to the research that they were doing that I'm not going to go into, but here's a really good if you want to read about the details.

Basically all of that scientific stuff let them make something that could amplify (make bigger) an electric signal. One of the big reasons that that's important is because in the past, the only way they could do that was by using vacuum tubes, which were really really big. And they had to use a lot of them. Transistors could do the same thing even though they were a lot smaller.

That leads me to your second question. It's hard to say what the _most_ important effect of the transistor was. That's because there have been so many different effects, and I sure don't know what they all are. But I'll tell you about a few of them.

One is computers. Computers were invented about 8 years before transistors were. Those computers were big enough to fill entire rooms (because they used big vacuum tubes) and were about as powerful as a small pocket calculator today. Because of the transistor, they were able to make computers that were much much smaller. They did the same thing with radios. You may have seen pictures of radios from when your grandparents or great-grandparents were young. They were really big clunky things. By using the transistor, we now have radios that can even fit in your alarm clock!

Another thing that we couldn't have done without the transistor is space travel. In order for a space shuttle (or a satelite) to get up into space, it needs to be as small as possible. It also needs to have computers on board to help make calculations. The computers from before were much to big to fit on a space shuttle. But since we have the transistor, now we can.

There have been lots of other effects of the transistor (and having smaller computers) since then. It would be pretty much impossible for me to list them all since there's so many. If you want to find more, you can try looking around at your school library.

-Tamara

(published on 10/22/2007)

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